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Objectives: Episodic foresight refers to the capacity to mentally travel forward in time and has been linked to a wide variety of important functional behaviours. Evidence has recently emerged that chronic opiate use is associated with deficits in this critical capacity and that these difficulties are not simply a secondary consequence of broader cognitive dysfunction. The current study aimed to better understand the circumstances in which chronic opiate users might be expected to have problems with episodic foresight, by addressing whether deficits reflect compromised scene construction, self-projection, or narrative ability. Methods: Thirty-five chronic opiate users and 35 demographically matched controls completed an imagination task in which they were instructed to imagine and provide descriptions of an atemporal event, a plausible, self-relevant future event, as well as complete a narrative task. These three imagination conditions systematically varied in their demands on scene construction, self-projection, and narrative ability. Results: Consistent with prior literature, chronic opiate users exhibited reduced capacity for episodic foresight relative to controls. However, this study was the first to show that these difficulties were independent of capacity for scene construction and narration. Instead, a specific impairment in self-projection into the future appears to contribute to the problems with episodic foresight seen in this clinical group. Conclusions: Deficits in self-projection into the future may have important implications in therapeutic environments given that many relapse prevention strategies rely heavily on the ability to project oneself into an unfamiliar future, free of problem substance use. Practitioner points: • A reduced capacity for episodic foresight highlights the importance of refining current relapse prevention protocols that place significant demands for mental time travel into the future. • Psychosocial treatments should focus on the attainment of more immediate or short-term goals. • It is difficult to delineate the effects of specific substances given long-standing drug use history common to chronic opiate users. • Conclusions relating to neurological functioning are speculative given the absence of neuroimaging data.


School of Psychology

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Journal Article

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